Hiya

Chuck Charles

Independent release, 2020

http://www.bigfellas.net

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/07/2022

When last (and first) we encountered Charlie Recksieck, it was as half of the duo Leaders In The Clubhouse, whose smart-alecky songs I described as “very much in that Fountains Of Wayne – Ben Folds vein,” with a bit of an irascible edge. The same applies to his solo moniker Chuck Charles; this is brightly rendered, upbeat power-pop, thoughtfully arranged, with lyrics that are sometimes clever, sometimes serious, and sometimes both.

What he doesn’t take seriously is himself. In my notes for this review I scribbled “Randy Newman for dummies,” but immediately felt that phrase was too negative to include, only to find this quote on Charles’ own website: “Chuck Charles was once referred to as ‘the stupid man's Randy Newman’. We like that.” Alrighty then!

“My TV Friends” is a good choice to kick things off, a bouncy tune about a lonely TV addict who’s looking forward to getting home at the end of the day to see all of his on-screen friends. The undercurrent of sadness and alienation is both emphasized and offset by a snappy arrangement including horns and harmonies. “All Those Pretty Colors” follows, a tune about coveting comic books. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a reader and former collector myself, but would I write a song about that? I doubt it, but Chuck’s is pretty good.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“Key To A Door” offers hints of another possible source of inspiration: Jimmy Buffett. Charles is once again talking about serious things in a funny way, masking vulnerability with punchlines. Track five, the elaborately named “Like A Maggie’s Positively Leopard-Skin Homesick Blues” is where you realize you’re dealing with someone whose filters are out of commission; it’s a rollicking 11-verse Dylan homage-slash-parody that goes on for (gulp) eight full minutes.

From there you get a playful take on patriotism (“Independence Day”), a bluesy tune (“Ugly Butterflies”) that lets guitarists Andy Machin and Mike Mannion stretch out while doing their best Clapton/Harrison imitations, and a loungey interlude that sets up the distinctly less jokey second half.

In its own way, second-half-opener “Lebanese Prison” is emblematic of this album; mixing and matching musical styles under a lyric that’s a four-minute extension of a single idea—comparing the unpleasant situation the narrator finds himself in to a Lebanese prison. It works as well as it does only because of the specificity of that point of comparison.

“Lift” is a notably effective description of the relationship between performer and audience; the performer’s gift is to give their audience a lift. It’s a simple idea that he does a nice job with here while giving it a yacht rock musical frame. “The Naked Truth” is a bit of a speed bump—a sad sack litany of bad breaks and indignities that overstays its welcome—on the way to the one cover here, a solo piano rendition of The Killers’ “Read My Mind” that works shockingly well.

“Were You Close” has a definite Fountains Of Wayne vibe, that slightly delusional lovable loser persona, but sweeter, goofier and sadder. Then “Oh My” plays it straight for a big love song, tapping a full horn section to bring it home, before we close out in melancholy form with the elegiac, distinctly Ben Folds-ish “So Long,” an imaginary conversation with a young acquaintance who died too soon.

Having said all that, it must also be said that 15 tracks and 64 minutes of Chuck Charles might be too much of a good thing; cutting three or four songs could have resulted in a stronger and more focused album. Such quibbles aside, Hiya is an affectionate and often clever homage to sharp-penned songsmiths like Randy Newman. Despite its various gags and feints, at heart it’s a serious venture crafted with loving care.

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


Comments









© 2022 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Independent release, and is used for informational purposes only.